Motoring

MOTORING

Jaguar I-Pace EV400: The brightest EV spark – for now

Jaguar I-Pace EV400: The brightest EV spark – for now

Electric cars are starting to trickle on to South Africa’s roads. The Jaguar I-Pace is the latest, and arguably most convincing, to reach our shores. In pure driving terms, it makes a compelling case for EV technology, albeit a pricey one – but does it herald a new dawn of emissions-free motoring?

It’s hard to describe just how hard, how brutally fast, the Jaguar I-Pace accelerates. Flooring the throttle unleashes a truckload of instantaneous urge, flinging the all-electric SUV towards the horizon with such force that it makes even a supercar feel tame.

Yes, I know – that sounds like an exaggeration, given that we’re talking about a 2.2-ton SUV relying purely on electric power for its motive thrust. But it’s true: even the claimed 4.8sec sprint time from standstill to 100km/h seems an understatement compared to the real-world experience.

There’s no initial inertia, not an iota of hesitation when you stomp on the loud pedal: just a neck-wrenching, a landscape-blurring surge that seems to defy gravity itself. Eerily, there’s no engine noise: just a distant buzz from the dual electric motors.

If nothing else, just the way the Jaguar I-Pace gathers speed will change the way people think about electric cars forever. But it’s only one aspect of a car that surprises on several levels: road manners and refinement, interior space and operating range among them.

At almost 3m, the wheelbase of the I-Pace eclipses that of a Range Rover, so it’s by no means a small machine. In overall terms, it’s about the same size as a Jaguar F-Pace or an Audi Q5, but it hides its bulk well.

The proportions are more car-like than SUV, with short overhangs (especially the stubby rear) creating an unmistakably sporty impression. Big wheels, flared wheel arches and high waistline contribute to a poised, determined look.

Because the underpinnings of an electric car are so different from conventional front-engined models, the packaging is a lot more efficient. The batteries are located in a sealed compartment mounted below the cabin floor and between the axles.

The Jaguar battery pack is rated at 90 kWh and can be charged using either conventional AC, or DC for fast charging. There are various charging options, ranging from slow to fast.

Yes, you can simply plug the I-Pace into a normal wall socket, using the standard cable provided. But you’ll need to keep it plugged in for 24 hours to fully charge the battery.

A better alternative is a dedicated, wall-mounted charger (a R25,000 option), which is more powerful and faster: it will charge the I-Pace to 80 percent in around 10 hours. The wall charger is similar to the AC chargers you’ll start seeing in shopping centres and at Jaguar dealerships.

If you’re in a hurry, a DC fast charger is what you’ll want to look out for: it will get a flat battery to an 80 percent charge in just 72 minutes. But you’ll pay more for the privilege.

Charge stations are popping up in major centres and along key national routes, thanks to a Jaguar-supported initiative by local supplier GridCars. As the likes of Audi and Mercedes-Benz join the EV fray, the demand for charge stations will grow, expanding the infrastructure.

For now, Jaguar expects most I-Pace owners to charge their steeds overnight at home, yielding up to 470km of real-world range. You’ll only need to visit a charge station if you’re travelling over longer distances, or are away from home – which for most motorists will represent a small portion of their overall usage pattern.

What about load shedding? Jaguar argues that load shedding is typically implemented during high-load daytime hours, and rarely after 10pm, which should still ensure a feasible charging window.

As for running costs, Jaguar believes that the I-Pace will be considerably more cost-efficient to operate than conventional petrol or diesel-powered vehicle of similar size. Just how much cheaper will depend on driving style, driving conditions and the cost of charging.

Currently, charge point costs average between R3 and R3.50, per kWh, which translates into around R300 for a full battery recharge. Compare that to the R890-plus to fill up the 60-litre tank of the similarly sized Jaguar F-Pace with 95 octane unleaded petrol.

But let’s cast all those rational arguments aside. For me, one of the most exciting aspects of the I-Pace is just how entertaining it is to drive – and how well it copes with a variety of road conditions.

It’s light years removed from the notion that a modern electric car like the Jaguar is little more than a glorified golf cart.

Given the combination of generous power and torque, all-wheel drive, and a suspension system featuring front wishbones and a multilink rear set-up, it certainly has the on-paper pedigree.

Because each axle gets its own, synchronous electric motor, driving the front and rear wheels respectively, the Jaguar is effectively all-wheel driven. Torque vectoring allows the amount of urge transferred to each wheel to be individually adjusted, according to load and traction needs.

The proprietary electric motors are rated at 147kW and 348Nm each, translating into a meaty 294kW and 969Nm of total system power.

The battery pack is the primary reason for the I-Pace’s porky 2.2ton kerb weight, but because it’s located so low, and across much of the width and length of the vehicle, the result is an ultra-low centre of gravity, which benefits handling and stability.

I’ve already described how almost violently quick the I-Pace is off the mark. It’s a much more physical experience than in a normal car, and the throttle is best treated with some respect. But the I-Pace isn’t just a straight-liner: it handles with assured aplomb that belies its size and weight.

The steering is (unsurprisingly) electrically assisted, and while it suffers from a small measure of remoteness, it’s quick enough. The sub-12m turning circle also makes for nimble manoeuvrability.

The top-line HSE I drove at the SA launch features air suspension, which delivered an impressively composed and refined ride, regardless of the road surface. In fact, if there were any concerns about the suitability of an EV for local conditions, the launch route addressed them comprehensively.

Gravel? No problem: I was able to tackle farm roads with enthusiasm, making the most of the Jaguar’s planted demeanour and all that traction to fling it through sweeps.

River crossings? Ditto: the I-Pace negotiated a flooded low-level bridge with all the gung-ho confidence of an off-roader. Frankly, I very much doubt that your typical I-Pace driver will want to go all-terraining – but it can.

On tarred country roads, the car handled undulations and pockmarked surfaces with disdainful ease, even when piloted with intent at sports car speeds. It feels unlike anything else I’ve driven: you’re aware of all that weight, but because it’s located so low, the car never feels ponderous.

The I-Pace is unnervingly quiet. Without the hearty growl of a combustion engine, you’re left with a slightly weird, turbine-like whine that’s more bullet train than a golf cart. Wind and road noise are very well contained, underscoring the effective cabin insulation.

The lack of noise contributes to the car’s admirable comfort levels. The long wheelbase makes for a very spacious interior, with stretch-out space front and rear, and an impressively capacious 656-litre boot under the large-opening tailgate.

There’s plenty of headroom, and rear occupants will revel in generous legroom – even for taller frames. The execution is very much upmarket, and there’s a pervasive sense of sophistication and finesse.

Leather and metal vie for attention with a trio of high-res full-colour displays: a central screen for the infotainment system, a second one below it for the climate control and seat heating/ventilation settings, and thirdly, a configurable digital instrument cluster.

The menu-driven infotainment system could be more intuitive, despite smartphone-like swipe-based navigation. The menu options aren’t always logical, and finding a particular setting or display can take some time. But the overall ergonomics are efficient enough.

The Jaguar I-Pace makes a strong case for electric vehicles on many levels – even more so in a first-world context, where larger economies of scale, shorter distances and a fast-growing charging network benefit the EV business case.

In South Africa, the high acquisition cost remains the biggest stumbling block, while the small volume potential (at least for now) makes setting up and using a charge station network relatively expensive.

However, in purely dynamic terms, the I-Pace is an engaging, thrilling machine with a talent set that eclipses most conventional luxury SUVs with ease. That alone will win it many friends.

Besides, there’s a certain allure to being unshackled from spiralling fuel costs that many motorists will find appealing – if they can afford it.

With Audi and Mercedes-Benz set to launch direct rivals to the I-Pace, and BMW putting ever more emphasis on its existing and upcoming electric models, the EV era is certainly dawning.

For now, the Jaguar I-Pace is set to remain a low-volume niche model with a high desirability factor, and a price tag that will limit take-up to wealthy early adopters. Even so, it’s the first real glimpse of an EV future – and it’s a more attractive future than expected. DM

PRICING

Jaguar I-Pace S R1,687,200

Jaguar I-Pace SE R1,745,400

Jaguar I-Pace HSE R1,820,900

Jaguar I-Pace First Edition R1,920,700

VITAL STATS

Jaguar I-Pace EV400
Engine Dual synchronous electric motors
Total system power 294kW
Total torque 696Nm
Power/weight ratio 133.15 kW/ton
Gearbox Epicyclical single-speed, AWD
Wheels/tyres 20-inch alloy, 245/50 R20 tyres
0-100 km/h 4.8sec
Top speed 200km/h
Battery type/capacity Li-ion, liquid-cooled / 90kWh
Charge time (0-80%, 7kW AC charger) 10 hours
Operating range (claimed) 470km
Gallery

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